Fifteen-year-old Abigail Stones from Liverpool says “it feels amazing” to be able to call herself a world champion after helping Great Britain to its best ever result at the World Junior Taekwondo Championships in Taipei at the end of March.
Winning all four matches on her way to the under-42kg final, she kept her cool in a tense gold medal match against the Philippines’ Irene Bermejo to claim a vital golden-point victory in extra time. After a promising start, the final rounds must have been tough for her family and teammates to watch with Bermejo fighting back, as Abigail explains.
“I was doing so well at the end of the first round leading three-nil,” she says. But by the end of the second the scores were tied five-all following a series of rapid scores by her resilient and equally determined opponent.
“The third round was very cagey and ended six-all,” Abigail adds, “which took the final into sudden death - meaning the first person to score would be crowned world champion.”
The pressure on Abigail, who had dropped two kilograms before the competition to compete in a lower weight category, must have been immense. But she stayed one hundred per cent focused for what was shaping up to be the biggest challenge of her career. So focused, in fact, that when the roar of the crowd told her the match was over, she wasn’t even sure who had won the final point.
“I thought they were cheering for my opponent,” she explains. “I was very nervous to look at the scoreboard and when I did, I had to double-check the colour of my body armour to be sure it matched the colour on the screen.”
But win it she did, and so became the first British woman to bring the title home – something even the reigning Olympic champion, Jade Jones, wasn’t able to do back in 2010 when she won a silver medal at the world juniors in Mexico. Incredibly, later the same day Lauren Williams won a second gold for GB in the women’s under-59kg category. That, coupled with two bronze medals for Leah Moorby and Katie Bradley gave the British team its best ever result at the event, with the girls finishing in third place in the international medal table.
“With two golds and two bronzes won by the girls it was a great performance but the whole team including the boys gave one hundred per cent throughout and did their country proud,” Abigail says. “After spending a month together in our training camp in Korea and our time in Taipei we bonded very well and were a very close and supportive team. Very much like a second family.”
Another factor in her success, she says, is the support she has had from SportsAid along the way.
“This is the second year I have received a SportsAid award,” she explains, “and these have helped me compete at last year’s European championships where I won a bronze medal as well as at this year’s world championships. They have also helped me to pay for training camps in between these competitions, for which I am truly grateful.”
Not forgetting the vital role her coaches have played, Abigail says her victory in Taipei was a great recognition of all the hard work they have put into her taekwondo career. They saw the potential that perhaps even she didn’t know she had.
“I believed in my ability and knew if I stayed focused and listened to my coach, I would have a good championships,” she adds, “but I did not dare to dream I would win it.”